Prince – 20Ten (2010)

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By Nick DeRiso

Prince, on “20Ten,” sounds like his old self again. The one you used to go buy.

That starts with “Compassion,” this thunderous, ass-shaking opener, in the style of every Prince album that mattered back in the day. “Beginning Endlessly,” firing off with a titanic keyboard riff reminiscent of Yarbrough and Peoples’ “Don’t Stop the Music,” then flows seamlessly afterward.

In the space of a few minutes, the prickly, sometimes stupifyingly uncommercial Prince has embraced an old-school futurist sound and this jaunty stance that everyone would be forgiven for forgetting. Once upon a time, you’re reminded, nobody was more creative inside the staccato regimen of a drum machine.

Once upon a time, a long time ago.

Yet on “20Ten” it sounds, at least to my ear, like Prince is having fun. How long have we been waiting for that? Couple this with his curious throwback announcement earlier in the month that “the Internet’s completely over,” and all of sudden, we’re partying like it’s 1979.

Prince hinted at a penchant for analog redux on that minimal “MPLSound” portion of the three-CD “Lotusflow3r” from last year. But he finally, blessedly, goes all the way back on “20Ten.”

“My reputation proceeds me,” Prince sings, “call it a claim to fame. They know me around the world. You want me, just the same.” Maybe, we do. That didn’t keep some — yeah, including me — from finding much of what he’s done in the past decade too overwrought, too repetitious or too long, in some combination.

Now, there remain curiosities here: While the recording has been issued in Europe, plans for a U.S. release have remained unclear.

Then there’s “Sticky Like Glue,” which starts out as a scrunchy piece of falsetto- and keyboard-driven funk, and maybe the best throwback in a record stuffed with them — before Prince raps the middle verse.

The broadly talented Prince does very many things exceedingly well, including but not limited to laying down track upon track of soul-lifting, almost mythical dance-floor grooves all by his own self, surviving a disastrous conversion of his brand to an unpronounceable symbol and tricking Apollonia into baptizing herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka (“That ain’t Lake Minnetonka”). Rapping, however, was not and is not one of them.

So, we move on to the joys of “Act of God,” a point at which Prince completely inhabits this record’s third-act redemption.

At first, that might be attributed to these sweeping synth washes, offset by thin-set guitar riffs. But the tune also harkens back lyrically to the topicality of his criminally underrated “Sign O’ of the Times,” focusing here on how the twin devastations of our economic downturn and war making in the Middle East have challenged the country’s values.

There’s a commonality, in both cases, to our fates: “Funny how nobody’s holy books are the same,” Prince sings. “Everybody’s god has a different name. But the day that it’s over, it’s the end of the game.”

Less interesting is an ultimately rote ballad like “Future Soul Song,” and the consecutive downers of “Walk in the Sand” and “Sea of Everything.” They seek out the silky lusciousness of “Diamonds and Pearls,” but ultimately sound more slick than smooth. He can’t summon the hard beauty of “The Beautiful Ones” anymore.

Something changes after that. “20Ten” has a post-modern, trance-like electronic rhythm that, once its broken, is hard to become reinvolved with. By the time the hard-partying closer, “Everybody Likes Me,” zips in, you’ve shaken yourself awake again.

The spell is broken.

Thank goodness for the bonus track, “No. 77,” with an exhilarating sequence of way-back disses — a remarkably loose Prince calls himself, no kidding, “the Purple Yoda” — and this atmospheric, billowing signature line on the synthesizer.

Ragged, almost out of control at times, we’re reminded again of what Prince once was, and what he can still be.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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